September 19, 2019
3 Key Components to Turn Videography Into a Career… Starting With a Smartphone
Open your smartphone and an hour later, you’ll be wondering where the time went. This is the world we live in today, where a device the size of your palm can keep you entertained for hours on end, with hundreds of stories.
Smartphones have evolved into fingertip-based entertainment hubs but with a little bit of creative flair and passion for telling a good tale they have everything you need to transform from passive viewer into storyteller and hobbyist, and maybe even entrepreneur.
Internet access, a social media account and high-quality video recording capabilities are all the tools a creative smartphone user needs to earn an income and start a business nowadays. Examples are easy to find; in 2018 alone, the top ten YouTubers earned $180.5 million, with an average of $18 million per content creator. By comparison, a cinematographer with 20 years of experience stands to earn at most $75,600 annually.
Moreover, the recognition the latter will get is nothing when compared to the fame surrounding the former. The name Lucas Cruikshank may not ring any bells but, a decade ago, this 16-year-old teenager started a video series centered on a fictional character Fred that went viral, earning him 1 million subscribers, a record number for YouTube channel owners back then. This achievement earned him a TV appearance and several contracts, but more importantly, it opened the doors for a generation of content creators for whom age is just a number.
Social media, the outlet that sparked a global dialogue
The surge in popularity of social media platforms made this unlikely reality possible. All good content needs a place to be seen and heard; a platform to spread its wings. Without an outlet that encouraged the consumption of video by creating tools to easily and swiftly upload video content, a global dialogue – from a visual and auditory perspective – would have never been possible.
YouTube started as a platform dedicated to video sharing 14 years ago and in its relatively short lifespan it has become the second most popular online search engine for content with more than 816 million hours of video. Along the way, it has nurtured creators from around the world, opening local versions in 91 countries and helping users by giving them a place not only to spread their message but to monetize it too. Although the desktop version of the platform is widely used, a staggering amount of users access it from their mobile, its app being the most downloaded app on iOS.
Another prominent social network, Instagram, is transforming users from still photographers into videographers. There, trustworthy, opinionated users, so-called influencers, can shape consumer perception through video advertisements, which account for a quarter of all Instagram ads. When the platform first launched this capability, around 5 million videos were shared in just a day. Today more than 100 million Instagrammers use livestreaming to spark engaging conversations.
Social media was essential in laying the foundation for this powerful forum where storytellers, specifically videographers, could thrive. However, were it not for wide availability of relatively cheap, good quality video cameras this would never have been possible. When you add a direct connection to the internet, a good screen and enough computing power to allow users to edit on the fly, you end up with a recipe for a content explosion of mammoth proportions; all from humble pocket-sized beginnings. Enter the Smartphone, tearing down the barriers to creation by simplifying the process of video mastering and sharing beyond the wildest dreams of anyone old enough to remember when you needed to load a tape into a video camera before you could hit record.
From passive observer to participant documentary maker
As a photographer myself, there will always be a special place in my heart for a DSLR or even a 35mm film camera. Yet, it cannot be denied that smartphones provide content makers unparalleled freedom that was never before possible with a traditional camera. The moment a cinematographer or a photographer pulls out a camera and looks through the viewfinder, they are no longer participants to the event. They become passive observers, detached from the events around them as they seek to capture that all elusive decisive moment.
On the other hand, smartphone videographers have greater opportunity to stay right in the thick of things and continue to be an integral part of the moment captured. They can move around the scene discreetly with every tool they need on hand, not shielded from it behind a sea of expensive equipment. They are all powerful, self-contained directors with their own vision.
If in the 90s, it took more than 5 minutes to transmit a low resolution photo from a digital camera over a phone line; today, high resolution stills and ultra high definition videos can be shared in mere seconds or live streamed, with a press of a button, reaching not just a handful of contacts, but an audience of many millions in some cases.
Over the past 15 years cameras have evolved from analogue to digital, scaled up immensely in image quality while the hardware has shrunk massively in size. All so that they could fit into communication devices offering immense computing capability with long battery life. This has been quite simply a remarkable achievement of technology and creative innovation; and we are only beginning to tap into its true potential.
Where can it go from here? Now that the backbone of the basic camera technology has been incorporated into smartphones and the resulting image quality is reaching incredible levels, mobile video recording is simple and seamless for even the least tech savvy user. Imaging companies can now turn their focus to pushing the envelope on image quality even further and giving smartphone users the necessary tools needed to give their videos more artistic flair.
Suddenly, outstanding videos with a vision and a specific style are no longer the prerogative solely of the cinematographer, but anyone can get involved.
The next step: democratizing sophisticated technology
Just this spring, smartphones proved once again they don’t need to compete with thousand -dollar cameras. In fact, smartphones are such an extension of ourselves today that, beyond offering convenience, they come with an unspoken challenge: to test the limits of the creative artistic endeavors of the user.
This is why the film crew of NBC’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon decided to give up the expensive camera equipment they usually used in favor of a smartphone. An entire episode was shot only via a smartphone, proving not only that the technology to achieve such a feat can be found in a small form factor ; but that the end result will have the high quality the audience expects from such a popular TV show.
In 2019, traditional computational imaging in combination with computer vision-based artificial intelligence is beginning to enable the humble smartphone to overcome its physical limitations in order to provide a new storytelling angle to cinematographers. In the NBC case, it allowed Jimmy Fallon and his team to break free of the confines of their usual studio set and, instead, deliver the show from various establishments around New York City.
Using a smartphone to produce a film with a vision, theme and style has been done before, of course. Stand-alone cameras have been replaced with phones to not only shoot short movies and independent films, but commercials, episodes in renowned TV series such as “Modern Family” and even an Oscar-winning movie, “Searching for Sugar Man”.
Encouraged by such success and no longer constrained by the burden of traditional video cameras’ weight, bulkiness and sophisticated functions, videographers may start to find that smartphones can render their vision accurately and in the spirit of a motion picture.
Of course no two smartphones are created equal. This is where videographers need to be careful to select the right smartphone for the job. It isn’t just about headline specifications either; two different smartphones can claim the exact same features but deliver wildly different results.
In movie making there is a specialist who makes all the decisions about the selection of equipment, the lighting and even composition; basically all the artistic and technical decisions related to how to shoot a particular scene. This is the Director of Photography. Any aspiring smartphone videographer might benefit from this kind of knowhow and experience. But let’s face it, this just isn’t practical for most people. The good news is that there are companies who work with smartphone makers to simplify all the underlying complexity of the technology, making cinematic video recording more accessible, while still leaving space for artistry.
In videography, there are several elements that will help smartphones to deliver content worthy of publishing.
The first and most obvious one is recording quality; it’s a very good idea to take the smartphone for a test drive if possible (even if it is just inside the store). Make a shortlist and compare the items side by side. But remember if your content is going to be viewed on a big screen, the small screen of a smartphone can hide a multitude of sins; so try to find quality content from other users of your chosen device and view it on the highest quality display you can access.
If you really want to shoot jaw-dropping, eye-popping content you should be looking for devices that can offer flexible recording options up to and including the highest available standard; this is currently Ultra High Definition at 60 frames per second (referred to as 4k at 60 fps). You may also want a smartphone that can capture with a quality and colour gamut which is compatible with the best displays on the market; this is currently 10 bit HDR and ITU Rec 2020 colour space. These devices will start to become increasingly available on the market; but for the moment the choice is somewhat limited. This particular envelope will be pushed beyond this level over the next few years as screens capable of even higher resolutions of 8K start to appear on the market.
It can be tempting to stop after finding a smartphone with this capability, swiftly comparing prices before acquiring their tools of trade. However, if other image quality and audio technologies are lacking, the user experience will leave a lot to be desired.
High performance with low power consumption is another essential trait a videographer’s smartphone must have. A drained battery can lead to frustration and missed recording opportunities.
Good quality image stabilization is equally important if the videographer truly wants to be discreetly sit in the middle of the action. Look for electronic image stabilization that eliminates not only the effects of hand motion but also higher frequency vibration such as rolling shutter effects. It should correct with 6 degrees of freedom, (including rotation and translation) as well as lens distortion artifacts. An ultra low latency mode is ideal for capturing fast paced sports footage in real time; while deferred correction yields silky smooth recordings with a cinematic quality for more artistic content.
Video capture is not just about stimulating a single sense with amazing images; it is a multi-sensory experience. If we really want to capture the essence of the atmospherics in a scene we also need to ensure we get the audio right. If the image is the main course, then good audio capture is the perfect wine pairing that completes the picture and will ensure that the videographer can evoke the essence of the scene to deliver content which stimulates all of the senses.
What did the “Searching for Sugar Man” videographer have besides a flagship smartphone? The same thing the team behind “Modern Family” and The Tonight Show shared: a solid story and creative flair.
Pure, next-gen technology, stripped of meaning and emotion, is not enough to make a videographer well-known and appreciated. A slideshow of five or even ten impeccable videos, with flawless execution, will be a feast for the eyes but forgettable to the soul.
Only when the three components come together, can a viewer connect emotionally to the content and call themselves a “fan” of the videographer’s work.
The road is not without struggles but our aim is to aid in the process. By democratizing sophisticated camera tech, we want to empower mobile users to become more than storytellers – directors of their own lives.
Simon Fitzpatrick is Senior Director of Product Management for Photography and Videography at Xperi. He is currently working to define the next generation of video capture solutions for smartphones. When he’s not at the office, Simon is on the go, traveling to explore other cultures, usually with a camera in hand, either taking stills or trying out new filming techniques. As with most of us, he unwinds with good music – but in a way few of us do: playing the guitar. He’ll tell you he’s rubbish at it. Don’t believe him.Back to Stories